The communities of Harrison and Ooltewah are still scarred with uprooted, twisted trees and homes under construction after a March 2 tornado, but neighbors are helping each other on the path to recovery.
The EF3 tornado destroyed 82 homes and damaged 262 more, but Tennessee emergency officials tell the Chattanooga Times Free Press that many people have turned the corner on their repairs 10 months after the storm and just in time for the holidays.
“We’re seeing a lot of repaired homes, and some homes that were destroyed have been torn down,” said Bill Tittle, Hamilton County chief of emergency management. “We’ve seen a lot of recovery in the neighborhoods — holes have been repaired, and some houses have been rebuilt.”
Tittle said requests for aid have dwindled and most people who were affected had insurance, which has sped up the overall recovery. But not everyone has been able to rebound so quickly.
Carl Evett was inside his small, uninsured home when the tornado struck and while he survived, dazed, but unharmed, the home was destroyed.
“The tornado took it all away, except me and the couch and the living room,” he said.
Heman McDade’s home wasn’t badly damaged, but his yard was littered with 40 fallen trees. When he heard that Evett was struggling to rebuild, he and another neighbor, Jack Brassfield, wanted to help.
“The rest of us got hit by it, and we were busy taking care of our business, but every day we drove by, we’d see Carl out there picking up debris,” Brassfield said. “Every day. All by himself.”
The two leveraged connections from their long careers in construction to help Evett rebuild with donated materials, volunteers and the money he received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
This holiday season, the volunteers along with Bayside Baptist Church helped build a new home for Evett about 50 feet away from the ruins of his former basement.
“You have no idea how many good people there are,” Evett said. “We go through life kind of pessimistic about people, until you have something like this happen and so many good people come out of the woodwork to help you.”
Last week, Evett, who previously worked as a janitor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, was painting the frame around his new front door. There are still final touches left to complete and furniture to bring in, but he hopes to be in the home by New Year’s.
“It was really bad in the beginning, but I’m better off now,” he said, standing on his new front porch. “I mean, people suffered because it was really horrible — when you lose everything you have and you don’t know which way to turn. But when you do turn that corner and things start looking up, you’re better off.”
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